Of all the many reasons to visit Scotland, the great whisky culture and traditions of the Highlands and islands are an especially potent factor for many travellers. Like special small batch beers, the market for craft whisky is in rude health at present, with whisky tours increasingly popular as seasoned drinkers get a taste for the variety and heritage of this world famous product.
So where is the best place to visit for the whisky enthusiast? With some stunningly wild, beautiful and rugged locations, Western Scotland is a fabulous place to taste the past, present and future of Scottish whisky. Our own Paul Arcari should know; establishing a special whisky menu here at Kilcamb Lodge he is a passionate fan of the good stuff. Indeed, he is always looking for the best produce and even selects a “Malt of the Month” to introduce guests to must try whiskies.
We are also ideally placed to explore some of the most beautiful and spectacular places to visit in West Scotland, whether your next dram is sipped in a castle or a windswept island distillery in Skye. Here are some of the best Scottish distilleries to visit and whisky tours to discover:
1. Ardnamurchan Distillery (Strontian, West Highlands)
Ardnamurchan Adelphi Whisky Tour (image: https://www.facebook.com/Adelphi-Distillery-Ltd)
Set in rural splendour just a short distance from the rugged coast at the mouth of Loch Sunart, this distillery is a great place to visit for both whisky and an intriguing heritage. If their signature malts were not potent enough, there is equally powerful history here, from early experiments in whisky making to bizarre booze laws and events such as the Great Gorbals Disaster; an accident which produced a tidal wave of alcohol so strong it resulted in fatalities among locals (on reflection, perhaps not the worst way to go!).
As for whisky tours and experience days, these operate for most of the year and vary from a basic tour (which includes a wee dram) to a special Connoisseurs tour and even the odd tasting session in the company of the manager himself, which must be booked in advance. For more on this excellent attraction, see http://www.adelphidistillery.com
2. Tobermory Distillery (Isle of Mull)
Tobermory Whisky Tour (image: Tobermory Whisky Distillery)
With over 200 years of production, Tobermory is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland. Before you have touched a drop, the setting of this historic Scottish company is intoxicating in itself, set on an idyllic corner of the Isle of Mull. This island and its traditional, slower pace of life is a lesson in itself when it comes to whisky; with consistency and specific processes so essential many of the finest distilleries rely on the experience of individual staff who often serve at the same distillery for decades, or even for several generations of the same family.
Various distillery tours are available, which take you on an intimate tour of the place and provide special access to the inner sanctum of production. In addition to the history you can also enjoy a sample while you’re here, with special whisky tasting tours also available. For more information on Tobermory and the beautiful Isle of Mull, see http://tobermorydistillery.com
3. Talisker Distillery (Isle of Skye)
Talisker Whisky Tour (images: https://twitter.com/TaliskerWhisky)
Few distilleries can rival the coastal location of Talisker, sitting on the wind-lashed coast of Skye. A selection of much loved whiskies cater for different drinkers, whilst reflecting the power and drama of the location itself. These are whiskies very much known for their distinctive flavours, whether you prefer old world charm or modern craft spirits you might find anything from salty maritime flavours to smoky and spicy character.
Regardless of where your preferences lie, the tasting tours come highly recommended. Should you want to know more, the Talisker Distillery website has a virtual tour to whet your appetite, along with taster’s notes and even a handy flavour map for each whisky. https://www.malts.com/en-gb/distilleries/talisker/
4. Isle of Raasay Distillery
Isle of Raasay Whisky Tour (image: https://www.facebook.com/RBDistillers/photos/)
A distillery to watch for the future, this island based operation is set to open in 2017, bringing craft whisky making to Raasay. With a small batch, hand-crafted ethic, whisky drinkers are already looking forward to tasting the spoils of the project. Not that a single malt can be rushed of course!
Even without the temptation of something medicinal, the island itself is a wild paradise. Whisky tours will add a further draw for anyone tempted to visit though. Keep an eye on the new distillery and its progress at http://rbdistillers.com/scottish-distilleries/raasay-distillery/
5. Dalwhinnie Distillery (Cairngorm National Park)
Dalwhinnie Chocolate and Whisky Tour (image: https://www.discovering-distilleries.com/dalwhinnie/)
With a fantastic Highland location this is one of Scotland’s loftiest distilleries if not the highest of them all. Indeed, it could be the 1164 feet of altitude as well as the actual whisky that makes the visitor pleasantly dizzy. The only slight risk for the visitor is that at such heights the weather can be very unpredictable and occasionally quite treacherous.
The actual site is open for whisky tasting tours much of the year, offering friendly expertise and some tempting options. Best of all, the guest can enjoy a selection of malts that have all been pared with specially selected chocolates. Heaven for the whisky drinker with a sweet tooth!
For further information, see https://www.discovering-distilleries.com/dalwhinnie/
Whisky Facts & Trivia
-On average, at least 37 bottles of whisky leave Scotland every second to export markets worldwide. For the sake of our own malt lovers, it is a good job we make plenty of it!
-Ever wondered about the origins of the word whisky? It is derived from the old Gaelic word for water, ‘uisge’. Today you will find “whisky” used for Scottish spirits, while the other spelling “whiskey” is used in the case of Irish and American drink. Throughout much of the world the word “Scotch” is freely used too.
-Whisky distillation stems back as far as the 11th Century in Scotland, it is believed, where Christian monks were the first purveyors of the good stuff. By 1500 it was popular all over Scotland. Production continued to increase, although much of it went on in secret after harsh English taxes were introduced.
-Strict rules apply to the age shown on a whisky bottle. Any true whisky must be barrel aged for at least three years- and where an age number is provided, this must not exceed the youngest whisky used to create that product.
-Whisky in barrels gradually evaporates at around 2% per year. Traditionally, distillers would jokingly call this the “angels’ share”.